Dreaming of a better night’s sleep? Researchers for the Sleep Cycle app found that Americans don’t get eight hours of sleep (although they’re close: At seven hours 19 minutes in 2017, the total is a four-minute improvement from 2016).
To make sleeping better, a good place to start is with a new pillow. “A pillow is a bed for your head,” says Michael Breus, a California clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders. “If you spend $1,000 on a mattress and use a $10 pillow, you just turned your bed into a $10 mattress.”
Researching the right pillow can be like staring down the toothpaste aisle, however: The options are endless. Thankfully, pillow testers like Breus can help narrow it down.
First, consider what type of sleeper you are: back, side or stomach. Back sleepers might need a flatter pillow to keep the head and neck in alignment. Stomach sleepers might need a soft pillow, or no pillow. Side sleepers might need a firmer pillow on the thicker side.
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Then there’s fill — wool, cotton, latex, memory foam, feathers, down — that often depends on whether you prefer squishy or firm pillows. Breus says that if you have back or shoulder pain in the morning, it’s a sign of using the wrong type of pillow (although check with an orthopedic doctor). Rebecca Robbins, a sleep adviser to the Benjamin Hotel in New York, advises: “Invest at the highest level your budget can afford. We sleep for one-third of our lives. Why not make it the most amazing, comfortable room in your house?”
Breus’ favorite, and the one he sleeps on, is V&R Naturals’ Latex Kapok Blend, because the stuffing can be removed as needed for sleep preference ($129, VRnaturals.com).
At the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab, senior product analyst Lexie Sachs and other analysts look at how well pillows keep their shape, withstand laundering and fit into a pillowcase. One pillow that has come out on top is the Sleep Number ComfortFit Pillow ($89.99-$149.99, Sleepnumber.com).
Sachs uses the “classic” model ($89.99). “Most foam pillows feel too firm for me, but this one is a combination of foam and down alternative fiberfill, and it feels like I’m getting the best of both,” she says. Because it’s not washable and has no removable cover, she uses the AllerEase Maximum Pillow Protector (Target, $7.99-$8.99).
“Our clients prefer bed pillows with a natural cotton cover and either a soft-yet-supportive mix of feather and down or a feather-and-down alternative,” says Michelle Dirkse, a Seattle-based interior designer. Parachute’s Down Alternative Pillow is one she has picked for her clients and herself ($59-$89, Parachutehome.com). This would be a good fit for a guest room, too, because it’s allergen-free.
Los Angeles interior designer Adam Hunter often uses the Yves Delorme Anti-Allergy down pillow in his projects, especially for kids’ rooms, because of the simple maintenance ($80, USA.yvesdelorme.com). They’re “easy to clean” and “so soft,” he says.
Robbins, a side sleeper, uses the Beautyrest Black Ice Memory Foam Pillow ($129, Mattressfirm.com). “Temperature plays a huge role in our sleep,” she says, and the Black Ice is made of a cooling, breathable foam.
“The bedroom is the gateway drug to get more sleep,” Robbins says. “We drink coffee, we drink wine, we get stressed about our careers. Some of those things are hard to modify, but the bedroom is something we can often control.”